Water district dips into reserves to fund flood project

 

In hopes of wooing federal dollars with a display of restless
enthusiasm, the Santa Clara Valley Water District will dip into its
reserve funds to begin construction on the Upper Llagas Creek Flood
Protection Project.
In hopes of wooing federal dollars with a display of restless enthusiasm, the Santa Clara Valley Water District will dip into its reserve funds to begin construction on the Upper Llagas Creek Flood Protection Project.

The water district’s board of directors voted unanimously Tuesday to spend $10 million over two years to complete the planning, design and purchase of right-of-way easements, and start digging on the project that will mostly eliminate the threat of flooding in downtown Morgan Hill.

The money will be shifted out of a reserve fund in the agency’s watershed account, which pays for flood control projects and creek maintenance, according to water district Deputy Operating Officer Katherine Oven. It was allocated Tuesday for the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years.

Water district staff anticipate that all of the funds will be reimbursed by the state and federal government.

The law that created the Llagas Creek project in the 1950s designated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the lead sponsor for the $120 million plan.

Local sponsors, the water district and City of Morgan Hill, are responsible for the planning and design of the project, as well as the acquisition of property along the creek and the relocation of utility infrastructure.

The Upper Llagas Creek Flood Protection Project will widen and deepen more than a 12-mile stretch of the creek, from Buena Vista Avenue in San Martin to Main Avenue in Morgan Hill. The creek, which runs just west of Monterey Road through downtown Morgan Hill, is prone to flooding during heavy storms. A storm Oct. 13, 2009, dumped about seven inches of rain on Morgan Hill and caused the downtown area, from Main Avenue to Watsonville Road, to flood.

Director Rosemary Kamei, a Morgan Hill resident, said the project is her “number one priority” as a water district official.

“The frequency of flooding is affecting businesses and people, and it’s devastating,” Kamei said. She added that she is working on forming a task force made up of local community members to assist with lobbying efforts for the project.

Morgan Hill Deputy Public Works Director Karl Bjarke was at Tuesday’s meeting, and he added that the rainwater diffusion project is the city’s top infrastructure priority.

The Corps is responsible for providing most of the funding – about $80 million – and the construction, which has been delayed for decades mostly due to a lack of federal dollars. The use of reserve dollars, which are typically used by public agencies when they face emergencies, will not speed up the current schedule of the project, which is now expected to be finished no earlier than 2016. Bjarke explained the project will have to be constructed in “incremental steps.”

But the local sponsors hope that by fronting the money to start digging, they will send a message to Congress that the project – and the money to complete it – is crucial for South County residents, businesses and future development. And last year, the city and water district agreed to expedite the design process by sharing that cost, about $9.7 million, Oven said.

“If our Congressional delegation sees local sponsors moving ahead, that may buy us some more support in Congress,” Oven said.

With the $10 million from the reserve fund, plus about $5 million already allocated from property taxes, the water district should have enough money to complete the acquisition of property, as well as the construction of about 3.25 miles of the project, Oven said.

The southernmost stretch of the project, from Buena Vista Avenue to Masten Avenue, will be constructed first, connecting the widened creek to the Lower Llagas Creek project which was completed in 1996. Plus, the money will be used to excavate an approximately one-mile diversion channel west of Monterey Road, across Watsonville Road, John Wilson Way, and Middle Avenue, to “siphon off flows from the creek,” Oven explained.

She noted that the $10 million reserve expenditure will be reimbursed by the Corps when the remainder of the 12.5-mile project is completed.

Leave your comments